Monthly Archives: January 2015

Heading Home

fishing boat, sunset, Florida

Heading home. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

This recent sunset over the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, FL was stunning all on its own. When this family fishing boat cut across the foreground heading home for the night, it gave the photo even more contrast, depth and meaning.

“Heading Home” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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A day in the life and near-death of me

Pileated Woodpeckers at dawn

The Pileated Woodpeckers beat all the other birds to the feeders on my memorable day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve been known to exaggerate. Believe me, there is no exaggeration in this story.

The day dawned bright and cheery. An orange sunrise quickly transitioned into a rare cloudless January day in northeast Ohio.

I was glad for that. I had a wide variety of activities planned. However, I could not begin to imagine how an unforeseen incident would impact not just the day itself, but my life, too.

First and foremost on the agenda was to complete a final draft of yet another newspaper column. Lunch would be early since I had a 1 p.m. appointment in my hometown, Canton, Ohio.

I am fortunate that I married a woman who loves to cook. She rules the kitchen. I help where needed, usually cleaning up afterward. Not this Saturday.

I arrived at my appointment right on time. An hour later I was visiting with my friend and barber, Paul, who was recovering from a severe stroke at a rehab facility near where I had been.

I had a marvelous visit with Paul and his wife. It was great to have him on the road to recovery. Their congeniality energized me.

snowy trail

The Audubon’s Warbler I was in search of was nowhere to be found. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Next I went in search of a couple of rare birds reported in the area. On the way, a small flock of American Robins flew across the road in front of me and landed in a crabapple tree loaded with fruit as orange as the birds’ breasts. I imagined the birds devoured the aged apples.

Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t locate the wayward warbler near Massillon. It should have been in tropical climes by now. With the sun shining brightly, I found the cold, sharp January air refreshing.

Next up was my third attempt to locate a Snowy Owl in Sugarcreek. Others had seen it only a few minutes after arriving. Not me. This visit was strike three for me.

I arrived at my final destination near dusk. The friendly property owner, who happened to be outside, graciously welcomed me. I asked his assistance in finding another rare bird near his home.

First though, the glowing sunset caught my eye. Even if I missed this bird, the view of the setting sun from this kind man’s backyard was stunning.

With the light growing dim, my new friend suggested we look for a pair of Short-eared Owls that he had seen on the farm just east of his home. Sure enough, there they were, majestically coursing the snow covered pastures for four-legged varmints. When one of the owls caught one, it buzzed by the other one instead of eating the critter. Was it showing off?

Back home, my wife, Neva, and I basked to the crackling of the fireplace while watching college basketball. It had been an eventful day.

Of course, none of these fulfilling proceedings would have happened if it hadn’t been for my wonderful wife. I failed to tell you that at lunch I choked on a piece of chicken.

Fortunately, Neva was nearby, and her instincts kicked in. With three thrusts of the Heimlich maneuver, the chicken dislodged, and I could breathe again.

Neva’s quick action enabled me to fully appreciate every moment of that day, and all that has transpired since then. Clearly, that is the very model of understatement.

Words are too cheap to express my utmost gratitude. Neva definitely saved the day and my life. There is simply no better way to put it.

winter sunset

The magnificent sunset on my eventful day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Catching some sun

fishing, sunrise, Florida, Bruce Stambaugh

Catching some sun. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I doubt that the line on this fisherman’s pole would reach the horizon. But I thought the combination of the bait bucket, pole, and the photo bomb by the Willet and the Black Skimmers made an interesting composition to a recent sunrise on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL.

Besides the contrast of the orange sky and sun with the blue Atlantic Ocean, the textures of the sand and seashells gave the photo depth and character.

“Catching some sun” is my Photo of the Week.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Sadness fills a beautiful, peaceful valley

Rock Doves, pigeons, barn roof

Pigeons roost atop Ivan’s barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Sadness has come to my favorite valley.

Now, there are plenty of beautiful valleys in our area. For me to say I have a favorite sounds a bit selfish. It’s not. It’s personal.

To be sure, I don’t own the undulating acreage. I just enjoy it.

You can’t find a name for my favored hollow on any map. I’ve never heard anyone refer to it by name in the three decades my wife and I have lived here.

Amish school, one-room school, Drushel Knoll School

Drushel Knoll School. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

An Amish one-room school, Drushel Knoll, might come the closest to naming this wide-open expanse of land surrounded by wooded hills. Drushel was a pioneer landowner where the school sits. The knoll is nothing more than a rise in a sweeping pasture.

To call it a valley might even be a stretch. A quiet brook lazily meanders northwest through this productive, fertile ground. For the longest time, the land was all farmland. Farmsteads dotted hill and dale. More recently, a few residences have also popped up along the skinny township road that rises, falls and rises again east and west.

This is the sacred place where I take my physical and mental exercises. When the weather is decent, I love to walk this humble road over to Ivan’s farm.

Amish school children, scholars walking

Students walk to the Amish school in the valley. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I will continue to do so, but Ivan will no longer be there. As he fixed his lunch bucket for work one recent morning, he collapsed and was gone. He was only 65.

Ivan would bicycle by our home on the way to and from his job at a local business we can see from our home. Not long ago, he had turned the hard but satisfying task of farming over to his energetic son, whose wife was one of my former students.

As my wife and I entered the farm building where Ivan’s body lay at rest, friends and warm handshakes greeted us. We paid our last respects to this quiet, hard-working man, husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend.

Tears flowed as we bent to share our condolences with Ivan’s widow and family. In the Amish tradition, family members sit in rows of facing chairs as mourners quietly pass through, shaking hands left and right, nodding heads, sharing moments, memories, and sorrowful tears.

summer sunset, Ohio's Amish country

The pond behind Ivan’s barn reflected a beautiful summer sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Wife, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, all expressed grace in the Amish manner, through their quiet, reverent presence. It was a communion of sorts, tears for wine, a gathering of steadfast people its bread.

I marveled at the strength of the family, their genuine kindness and positive comments even in the face of their grievous loss. As I scanned the forlorn faces, I saw folks I had not seen for years. Our spirits mutually embraced without actually hugging one another.

When you live in a rural community for decades, you take for granted the integral connections of one family to another. Being among those assembled mourners, the closeness and goodness of our common kinship washed over me.

Ivan was a good man, a quiet man, a respected man, a man of peace. To a member, his family mirrors his pleasant disposition.

It seemed impossible that such sadness could hover over this lovely setting, home, family. And yet, it did. It does.

A different kind of beauty flooded my favorite valley. The loving grace of community responding to a stricken, grieving family surpassed that of the basin’s enchanting pastoral physical features.

Even in death’s darkness, the light radiated in my beloved valley.

Amish farm, walking

My grandsons check out birds on the fence and phone line on a summer’s morning walk. Ivan’s farm is in the background. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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“Plain” geometry

Amish farmstead, farm buildings, Ohio's Amish country,

“Plain” geometry. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I have lived among “the plain people,” as the Amish are sometimes called, for more than 30 years. Over the years, I have marveled at the groupings of their nondescript buildings, the simple beauty of the textured angles. Of course, I am likely romanticizing their architectural practicality.

This farmstead is a good example. The combination of a fresh snowfall in the foreground and a bright blue sky in the background nicely framed this cluster of farm buildings at this Old Order Amish homestead.

“Plain” geometry is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

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Illness reawakened appreciation of life’s little things

Pileated Woodpecker, bird and shadow

A mere shadow of himself. © BruceStambaugh 2014

By Bruce Stambaugh

I had a lot of time to think and reflect over the recent holidays. It wasn’t what I had in mind. In the end, it may have been what I needed the most.

Like so many other folks, I got the flu. Mine hit just before Christmas, not good timing with the family gathering for the holidays. We had a lot planned, too.

I’ve learned that plans sometimes have to change, whether we like them to or not. I isolated myself from the grandkids until I was no longer contagious and felt well enough to participate. Even then, I kept my distance and paced myself. When the chill subsided, I snapped a few photos from the house.

This current flu outbreak has been particularly bad, spreading fast and furious. I got my annual flu shot, but medical officials said this strain had mutated, rendering the vaccination no defense against the illness’s manifestations.

grandkids, grandchildren, pajamas, Christmas morning

The pajama gang on Christmas morning. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

The other problem was that the initial symptoms behaved more like a head cold than the flu. This strain was more a respiratory influenza than an intestinal one. Consequently, most people were out and about unknowingly spreading more than good cheer at the holidays.

Sneezing and coughing were the first signs that all was not well. Then came the chills, aching and sore throat. Many people had fevers, too.

I pitied children and older folks. Both groups had little resistance to fight the flu’s harshest effects, fatigue, and fever. Unfortunately, some even died from this infectious infirmity.

Not only did this sickness spread rapidly, it stayed with people for days on end. Often, it morphed into other physical issues, like strep throat, sinus infection or laryngitis. This exponentially extended the time of sickness.

It respected no boundary lines either. People all around got sick. Health officials declared this influenza occurrence an epidemic. It certainly was in my family. The flu bug spanned three generations among my close relatives.

As I lay shivering beneath warm blankets, all I could think about was how lousy I felt. Then I heard of someone else getting sick, and I felt even worse. Not that it was my fault, but I felt bad for them.

It wasn’t until I reached the end stages of my round with the flu that I began to recognize just how thankful I was for life’s little things. Yes, I had missed some traditional gatherings with family and friends. But the times of solitude gave me opportunities to reflect on the good that had come into my life.

I appreciated the homemade Moravian ginger snap cookies paired with warm mint tea my wife fixed for me. That and the bubbling sodas and the clear, cold water kept me hydrated.

Amish horse and buggy, Amish buggy, New Year's Day

Our neighbors headed out for a New Year’s Day gathering towing a load of presents. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

A rare bright, sunny morning bathed the dormant earth in radiant beauty, and warmed at least my soul. So did notes of encouragement from others that came via phone calls, texts, cards, and emails.

I found great comfort in those thoughtful gestures. They helped me heal. I wanted to return the favors.

When I discovered another person had the flu, I relayed what information my own doctor’s office had given to me. It was about all I could do. For once, my message was pretty short. Rest. Drink. Eat. Take your medication. Repeat.

Of course, you don’t have to get sick to be thankful for the random common occurrences that better and brighten your day. Just embrace and enjoy them as they occur. And don’t forget to say thank you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Winter postcard

Amish farm in snow, Holmes County Ohio, rural scene, Bruce Stambaugh

Winter Postcard. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Winter arrived in earnest this week in Ohio’s Amish country. Once the snow quit, I went out to shoot some snow scenes. This one took the prize for me. And when a friend asked me where he could buy the postcard, I knew I had my Photo of the Week.

This current polar blast is hitting a lot of the country. I hope “Winter Postcard” will at least warm your spirits.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Don’t let the gray skies get you down

gray day, dreary day, Bruce Stambaugh

Gray day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s not easy living in the third cloudiest location in the nation. Like it or not, that’s just what the residents of Northeast Ohio have to do.

That’s not good for people with Seasonal Affective Disease (SAD). Recurrent gray days negatively affect their daily outlook. Folks with SAD have to suffer through as best they can. I can’t imagine how they do it. It’s hard enough to wake to one gray day after the other without that affliction.

I speak from experience having been a Buckeye all my life. Strung together like a necklace of discolored pearls, these series of overcast, dull days, can get us all down if we let them. We shouldn’t.

I will be glib and say there is good news anyhow. Minute-by-minute, daylight is increasing. That’s little consolation to all those overcome by the seasonal dreariness.

Winter mornings in Ohio seem darker and colder than ever. A minute of daylight tacked on a day at a time isn’t all that inspiring, helpful or meaningful.

We can always hope for an Alberta Clipper to roll through with a few inches of snow and frigid temperatures. The passage of the front usually brings clear, crisp days.

eastern bluebird, songbirds, Bruce Stambaugh

Songbirds like this male Eastern Bluebird can help cheer up any dull day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

In addition, the fresh coat of light, fluffy snow brightens the dull, dormant ground. A million diamonds sparkle day and night, as long as the moon shows its face. Even if it is cloudy, I find a certain joy in the crunch, crunch, crunch of each step to retrieve the mail or fill the bird feeders.

Indeed, these dreary, damp, cold days are what they are. They don’t have to keep us from keeping on. We have to remember that each day is a gem of a gift to treasure all unto itself.

For me, that is an important reminder. The start of a new year means we enter winter’s hardest times. The season’s coldest temperatures, harshest weather, and often the worst storms are likely yet to come.

All things considered worse scenarios than depressing weather abound in this world. Can we look beyond our personal life space to see them?

A friend of mine has terminal cancer. He unabashedly asks others what they think about each night before they go to sleep. Do they believe they’ll awake in the morning? Are they ready to pass on?

Those are blunt, but necessary questions for each of us at any age, healthy or ill. At the end of another day, what do we contemplate? Can we accept dismal skies or broken relationships, or unsatisfying vocations?

Will we wake in the morning to a new day or a new world? None of us, regardless of our situations, knows. I do know this, however. Time is fleeting, gloomy skies or clear skies.

How will we use each day we are given to the benefit of others no matter our personal station in life? Will we let the weather get us down, or will we radiate sunshine that warms and enlightens others?

Regardless of where we live, that is always a challenge, isn’t it? I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. But at this stage in my life, I only want to be helpful to others, those in my household, my family, my community, and even strangers I encounter in my daily duties.

My personal challenge this New Year is not to let the gloomiest weather dim the day at hand. What’s yours?

Amish farm, fresh snow, rural landscape

A fresh layer of snow helps brighten rural landscapes. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

© BruceStambaugh 2015

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